AN UNPUBLISHED AUTOGRAPH BAUDELAIRESQUE SONNET BY CROWLEY
BAUDELAIRE, Charles. Les Épaves
Bruxelles, chez tous le libraires, 1874.
8vo, pp. 163. Lacking half-title, etched frontispiece by Félicien Rops, title-page and second half-title. Contemporary brown buckram with gilt title to front cover and author’s initials to head of spine. Crowley’s iconic signature in blue ink on page 3 of text (unnumbered) and an unpublished poem by him in French (a true rarity!) on verso of front flyleaf (see picture and transcription below). At the end of the first sonnet, Le coucher du soleil romantique, Crowley added: “A prize of 333,000 francs is still open to any one who can guess why this sonnet was condemned, or, anyhow, included in this volume”. Crowley commented in pencil under a footnote referring to the word “venin” (venom, poison) in the last verso of the final stanza of A celle qui est trop gaie (“T’infuser mon venin, ma souer!”). The footnote states this and the other five “condemned pieces” were omitted from Les Fleurs du Mal (1857) because the censors thought “venin” had an indecent double meaning. Not without irony, the footnote makes clear it was just a metaphor of Baudelaire’s spleen, adding “Que leur interpretation syphilitique leur reste sur la conscience”. Crowley ironically concluded “et sur la mienne”, acknowledging the so evident maliciousness of the word.
La bouche de l’enfer, la vulve de ma mère
Engloutit de mes reins l’élan incestueux
Moi qui suis Alastor poète suis de ceux
Qui rendent au feu le feu de leur amour amer
Moi qui voulus branler le sceptre de mon père
Rugis, Satan, ton fils fait comme toi le preux,
Le malin me moqua: Bâtard! Fay ce que veulx!
Mais-tu n’est [sic] pas de moi! Tu es de Baudelaire!
L’Abîme s’est gonflée des flots de son venin.
L’écume bouilla de l’abominable vin
De ton essor
De Baudelaire l’in… âme.
Third edition of “Les Épaves”, first published in Amsterdam in 1866 and then Brussels. The text was edited by the printer Auguste Poulet-Malassis, a friend of Baudelaire. In 1857, Poulet-Malassis curated and issued Baudelaire’s most celebrated collection of poems, “Les Fleurs du Mal”, which was banned after publication. The six poems known as “condemned pieces”, which were left out from “Les Fleurs du Mal”, appeared in “Les Épaves”, which includes also “Galanteries”, “Épigraphes – Pièces Diverses” and “Bouffoneries”. The present copy contains Crowley’s literary homage to the great French poet, whose verses inspired late C19th art and literature, culminating in the decadent movement. This poem is obscene, perverse, eccentric and genuinely Crowleyan. Written in his unmistakable style, the sonnet shows subtle quotations of Baudelaire’s themes and imitates his grotesque ambience, carrying it to extremes. It shows the motto “Fay ce que tu veulx”, which Crowley drew from Rabelais and St. Augustine, making it the sole rule of his creed: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”. Baudelaire is of the highest importance to the development of Crowley and the making of his wicked and magical character. Crowley would have never become the Crowley we know without Baudelaire, his true master and supreme spiritual father: “I have walked through the Garden of the Luxembourg…Ah me! I stand now by the tomb of my father – of Charles Baudelaire. Reverence I bring, and memory, and that seed whereof I am generator and guardian…Oh! My father! My father! Thou art dead: I die: that liveth and shall live for evermore while Our Father the Sun nourisheth Earth with his bounty…Thou knowest, O my father, dead though Thou liest beneath the ill-carven stone of the sham sculptor that I am Thou” (A. Crowley, “Colophon. Charles Baudelaire”, in “The Giant’s Thumb”, New York 1915). Crowley believed the soul of Baudelaire migrated into his body, claiming to be his reincarnation. The outstanding relevance of Baudelaire to Crowley is evident in the many translations of his works, which the occultist undertook. In the preface to “Little Poems in Prose” (1913) Crowley celebrates him thus: “No bolder task can possibly be undertaken than the translation of prose so musical, so subtle, so profound as that of Charles Baudelaire. For this task I have the one qualification of a love so overmastering, so absorbing, that in spite of myself it claims for me a brotherhood with him. Charles Baudelaire is incomparably the most divine, the most spiritually-minded, of all French thinkers. His hunger for the Infinite was so acute and so persistent that nothing earthly could content him even for a moment. He even made the mistake – if it be, after all, such a mistake! – of feeding on poison because he recognized the banality of food; of experimenting with death because he had tried life, and found it fail him…His writings are indeed the deadliest poison for the idle, the optimistic, the overfed: they must fill every really human spirit with that intense and insufferable yearning which drives it forth into the wilderness, whence it can only return charioted by the horses of Apollo and the lions of Demeter, of where it must for ever wander tortured and cast out, uttering ever the hyaena cry of madness, and making its rare meal upon the carrion of damned. This yearning has made all the saints and all the sinners; it severs man from his fellows, and sets his feet upon a lonely road, where God and Satan alone, no lesser souls, commune with it. This yearning is the mother of all artists; in Baudelaire it reaches its highest and most conscious expression”.
Carteret, Romantique I, 128.